Creative Spaces in Trinidad

Alice Yard is currently undergoing construction. Somehow the small space in a tiny backyard will be expanded to accommodate a variety of artists.

Being around the creators of Alice Yard, a space for imaginative and creative people, I keep hearing over and over how Trinidad lacks "artsy" spaces. It's as if the whole island is indirectly trying to neglect the local artists. The establishments created to promote creative expression in Trinidad do little to motivate and support local artists. Andre Bagoo comments in his blog about some of the ways in which Trinidad is trying to improve their creative centers (to read more click here). In some ways people believe that Trinidad does not encourage creative expression, even though this country is famous for their whimsical two-day costumed Carnival. Somehow I was still shocked when my newly-made Trinidadian friend told me via facebook chat that this place doesn’t have the market for photographers. And I wondered what that meant? What place has a market for photographers?

In my opinion, artists always struggle to find a market for their work. Sure an add may be placed in the Newspaper for a studio or wedding photographers, but it's rare to see an art gallery searching for art work. The market for photographers, or any form of art, needs to be created by the artist. It doesn't matter where one goes, the market for art will always be a tough area to penetrate, but the options which help to create the demand is the key component, not the market itself.

Options for increasing creativity among the public include having buildings such as museums, art galleries, organizations geared towards inspiring young or old artists, even institutionalized programs, etc. But for some reason, I was under the impression that there are no museums in Trinidad, no art galleries, no option to express and showcase imagination. Interestingly enough, the more I research (online) and venture out the more I find that it is just not so. For example The National Museum and Art Gallery is in Port of Spain, which has two smaller branches of museums. There are other small art galleries throughout the island so it's not that the art world is non-existent, but there just aren't many outlets. However, the options are still available and seemingly expanding.

So far I have been taken to three art galleries, three more than I expected to visit in Trinidad, honestly. I was taken to In2Art, a gallery in St. Ann's, which is basically a hole in the wall. When we pulled up to the building, I thought it was just the entrance to an apartment building. Granted it looked freshly painted and the door seemed brand new, I couldn’t believe this was a gallery. However, when I walked into the space there was a refreshing cleanliness reminiscent of a typical gallery. The walls were stark white, fluorescent lights brightened the space and detached walls separated areas of the room. According to the curator there were three rooms and I thought to myself, "how could they possibly fit three rooms in this small building," but it was well done. At the time The Tallman Foundation, an organization that promotes artistic expression in young adults and teenagers throughout Trinidad, had their work on display. These adolecent artists had photographs depicting Hope, Love and Faith on every wall of the gallery; there was even a video recording of the purpose and drive for the work showing in the back room for anyone interested.

Horizons Art Gallery was another place I visited that seemed spaciously small. Comprised of two buildings, side by side, where one was the gallery and the other was a sort of gallery shop, Horizons displayed beautiful oil paintings by Harry Bryden. Although the images highlight an overly romanticized past, the creations are still very pleasing to the eye. The artist is of Trinidadian ancestry, which (similar to In2Art) was another example of Trinidadian art displayed in a Trinidadian gallery. A part of me expected to see non-Trinidadian art at these galleries, so it was nice to see Bryden's work on display in a somewhat nostalgic looking building. The outside of the building had fretwork, however the inside lacked the past characteristics so elegantly portrayed in the paintings and exterior design.

Soft Box Art Gallery "Hallway for Display" shows how paintings are on showcased on the walls similar to family pictures in a home.

Located in St. Clair, the restored old house turned art gallery seemed too small for the amount of paintings on display. Dispite the limitations of the building, the curators have done a wonderful job of making the space feel bigger than it looks. Artwork was displayed in nearly every room including the kitchen and a small sitting area. The only areas I did not see artwork were in the storage room and photo studio. A small commercial photography studio is run in the same building, so even though there was no art on display the rooms still had an arty vibe. I thought it was an interesting use of space because it examplifies one way Trinidad could invest in supporting their local artists while preserving architectural history.

The building was renovated but still had many of the old characteristics. The fretwork was still very visible on the exterior, however glass covered the inside fretwork so that cool air wouldn’t escape through the old ventilation system. There was still old tile work on the floor in one of the gallery rooms, which gave it a different feel from the dark hard wood floor at the entrance and in the hall. Even though the building is a gutted and repacked version of a house, it still felt homely to some extent.

All of this is to say that, while I am not very versed or experienced with Trinidadian art, from an outsiders perspective the place seems to promote artistic expression. Whether that comes from a national level, private organization or instigated by the community is not a huge concern. The fact is that there are some very nice spaces willing to display local artwork.

For more images of art spaces in Trinidad, click here.

A Tiled Car Park in Trinidad

Tile in a Carpark
"Tile in the Car Park" shows the tile work (probably) left over from a house that once occupied the same space where the car park is now situated.

While walking along the streets of Port of Spain, we come across a seemingly normal space: a parking lot. Nowadays it is normal to see car parks, but has anyone ever stopped to wonder what used to occupy this very space? Highly doubtful. I've been told that Trinidadians like to live in the moment, in the present, with little focus on the past or future. With that ideology, I really don't expect many people to notice the odd usage of this space. Honestly, I too walked blindingly past the parking lot the first time and if it weren't for my mentor I would never have known the difference.

Christopher Cozier made sense of it, he explained that some quintessential pieces of architecture are being destroyed and, in its place, car parks or office buildings are created. I do not know what it is, whether people cannot afford to keep the house in working condition or if they are just selling it for the large sums of money. Maybe people are fed up trying to salvage a rotten house. Perhaps it is easier for the owners to give up the homes, but for what? More wealth, which would be spent paying off the higher electricity bill because of the overuse of air conditioning? Either way these culturally symbolic homes are being wiped out.

Some may argue that it's more beneficial for the community to have space for parking as opposed to having a worn down house. After seeing the spontaneous street parking (talk about creating space where none is provided) it is not a wonder why car parks are necessary. In some cases, cars would park facing the opposite directions on the same side of the street. For this and many more reasons, putting down concrete where a house used to be is necessary for the foward movement of Trinidad, or so it is believed. To any unsuspecting passerby, the parking lot was a great way to clear up the road for moving cars.

Opposite facing cars
Here are "Opposite Facing Cars" parked on the street, not in the car park, still taking up road needed for driving.

This particular car park is on St. Clair. It is situated between three houses, one on the left, right and behind it. I guess this isn't a huge difference, but I am accustomed seeing parking lots next to stores or at least down the street. Maybe I must have missed the store, but as far as I know, there was none immediately close by. To me, just the fact that the car park is an empty area between houses hints at the previous domestic use of the space.

The second piece of evidence eluding to this theory is the fence in front of the car park. The details and design of the fence is, if nothing else, reminiscent of the old types (which are scarcely found in Port of Spain). Assuming that iron rusts after a long period of time, it's possible that the fence has been standing for many years and still is even though the house it once enclosed is gone.

Finally, the final clue is the tile under the fence. It gives away the previous use of the space because it stands out the most. The tile work adds a hint of unique beauty to the otherwise plain looking car park. Tiling was and, probably still is, popular in homes, so the fact that tile is under the fence really gets the point across. Maybe people don't want to live in the past, but why not demolish the whole site instead of leaving these historically insignificant objects to taunt Trinidadians who actually remember.

Although I say insignificant, which does no justice to my sentiments about the space, what I really mean to say is that the non-existent physical structure could have expressed a story or revealed some sort of history. The architecture could have been a great way to keep Trinidad's culture and heritage alive, but it's a bit too late for those hopes. All that is left are these easily forgotten, quick to walk past with no second thought, objects that imply a deeper meaning.

For more Car Park pictures CLICK HERE

Preserved 1930's Trinidad House

This image was taken in the front room where the majority of the family photos are displayed. This particular one is entitled "Portrait" for obvious reasons.

My name is Stanita Clarke and I am a Trinity College student studying in Trinidad for a semester. I chose to spend half of my senior year in Trinidad because of all the wonderful stories previous study abroad students have shared with me. So far, Trinidad is treating me very well, I am not sick nor is it snowing. With that said, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to learn in such a comfortable environment. As a student I am compelled to submerge myself in the world of academia. One aspect of my learning experience is to investigate Trinidad through photography. I am currently working on a series of images pertaining to the unique architecture in Trinidad. My hope is to preserve the memory of the "old" Trinidad, even though a more modern Trinidad is progressively taking over the country.

My first set of images are of a house in Port of Spain on Piccadilly Street. Dubbed the "Gingerbread House", possibly for its ostentatious wood work and extremely pointed roof-tops is an example of Trinidad's past struggling to survive modernization. I am told by my mentor, Christopher Cozier, that these houses are on the brink of extinction. So many of them have been bulldozed that it is becoming more and more uncommon to witness such marvelous structures. Which is a shame because they reflect so much about Trinidadian culture. Not only does the outside depict architectural work specific and unique to Trinidad, but the inside conveys particular details about what people cherish and how a home is put together.

According to the owners, the house was built in the 1930's by a Trinidadian architect. They have lived in it for 55 years (1954) and managed to keep almost everything original. The kitchen and bathroom were the only areas completely renovated mainly because of inconvenience. The kitchen was located outside behind of the house, but now that they have extended the house further back the kitchen is incorporated into the house. Some repainting and touch-ups have been done just to keep the place vibrant. It is becoming a common trend for windows to be boarded up so that air conditioning could provide the cool breeze. But as I have experienced, the open windows and fretwork around the top of the house allows enough breeze in to keep the family cool, not cold.

Front Door
The whole house was brightly lit with natural sunlight streaming in from the "Front Door" and neumerous windows strategically placed throughout the house.
Link to my first photo set here.

At one point the Gingerbread House was considered a modern structure, but never Western. Now, these houses are being replaced by buildings that fit Westernized standards rather than fitting into the climate/environment of Trinidad. I am not sure if Trinidad has realized the saying (as yet):" You never know what you've got 'til it is gone."